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“Encourage Male Allyship”, With Douglas Brown and Nancy Wang of ‘Advancing Women in Tech’(AWIT)

AWIT is an all-volunteer organization. We accomplish everything we do purely based on passion and belief in our mission, and the desire to elevate our members to the next level of their careers. When someone volunteers for AWIT, they discover they have to truly dedicate their time to making their project, whether content creation, hosting […]

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AWIT is an all-volunteer organization. We accomplish everything we do purely based on passion and belief in our mission, and the desire to elevate our members to the next level of their careers. When someone volunteers for AWIT, they discover they have to truly dedicate their time to making their project, whether content creation, hosting events, or mentoring others, a success.

This also ensures that everyone involved is from the technical industry and heavily invested in the group’s success, and that we’re able to serve all our members. Our volunteers are 50% men and women, includes LGBT representation, and our volunteer team resides in over five different countries, across three continents.


As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Wang.

Nancy is the CEO and founder of Advancing Women in Tech (AWIT). Since founding AWIT in 2017, the organization has experienced 2,000% growth, to a membership of more than 16,000. It’s her mission to provide opportunities to women and underrepresented groups and help them advance their careers in product and technical roles. Nancy also serves as General Manager of Data Protection Services at Amazon Web Services.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been a builder. In high school, my father and I built model airplanes together. In college, I built medical devices with my classmates. After graduating from Penn with my engineering degree, I joined the federal government as part of a team that launched healthdata.gov, one of the world’s largest healthcare repositories.

Why am I interested in building? If you think about humans compared to other animals, we all possess many of the same capabilities. One major difference is that only humans can build complex machines: the house, the airplane, the computer. Building more products, like healthdata.gov, helped me understand how software products can impact people positively, because it moved us closer to equal access to healthcare for every American.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

This is the story of how I became general manager at Amazon Web Services (AWS). The GM is the head of a business: the engineering, product, design, marketing and other leaders all report to the GM.

A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that being a GM wasn’t my goal when I joined AWS. I just wanted to lead a product management team.

Instead, a departure created a leadership vacuum. I made the case to my manager (Wayne Duso, AWS Vice President for File Storage, Edge Computing, and Data Governance) why I was next in line. And I made sure to spend every day working very hard, at the level of a GM, to prove I was ready for the promotion.

With that said, this is an example where I tell my mentees: it’s hard to predict when an opportunity comes knocking. But, if you want to achieve your career goals, you can also tip the balance in your favor by using the job you have to hone your skills for the job you want to have.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I worked at Google as a product manager, I was afraid of asking questions. I was scared to admit I didn’t know this or that fact. That limited my exposure to new concepts. Until my then-VP admitted he was about to ask a “noob” question, that gave me the confidence to start asking questions, regardless of what others would think about them, or about me.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

At Google, I was in awe of my peers. They graduated from top MBA programs, whereas I never attended business school. I felt like I had so much to learn compared to them. So, I taught myself all that missing knowledge like market share, pro forma, and customer GTM.

At the start, it probably took me 3 times as long to do something as it took my peers. What kept me going was the exuberance of knowing that I started from a humble family, grew up in rural Wisconsin, and made it to Google. I needed to make the most out of this opportunity.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m grateful for my boss, Wayne Duso, the Vice President of File Storage, Edge Computing, and Data Governance at Amazon Web Services. Wayne initially hired me as the principal product manager of AWS Backup, based on my prior experience in the backup industry. When I started growing my scope from principal PM to General Manager, there were many doubters who kept repeating these two talking points: she’s not qualified. She doesn’t have enough experience.

Eventually, I asked Wayne, what if these doubters are right? What if I’m not ready to be a GM? He said, I believe in you, you can do it. It’s not the number of years that matter, but whether the leader can deliver the results needed to move the business forward.

With that, Wayne enabled me to embark on my next inflection point: from head of product to General Manager, and from line manager to manager of managers. This shift also transformed many things about myself, including how I lead and motivate my team.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women, who have her back.

That’s the reason why communities like Advancing Women in Tech are so powerful. Every day, we encounter challenges and setbacks that can make us question our own self-worth. Having a supportive community of like-minded women gives you the confidence to go out there and tackle new challenges.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

I founded Advancing Women in Tech to narrow the gender and diversity gap in the tech industry, especially in leadership and C-Suite roles. Everyone knows there isn’t enough representation of women and people of color. But responsible board members can’t appoint unprepared candidates either. So what I do, and what AWIT does, is give ambitious, diverse professionals the resources to prepare themselves for those roles.

AWIT is dedicated to advancing the careers of over 16,000 women and minority professionals across the globe so they can reach those leadership roles and bring diverse voices to the table. By focusing on skills-based workshops, advocacy and mentorship, it’s actively addressing the gaps in leadership roles our members face going from mid-senior and director level roles into executive positions.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

AWIT is an all-volunteer organization. We accomplish everything we do purely based on passion and belief in our mission, and the desire to elevate our members to the next level of their careers. When someone volunteers for AWIT, they discover they have to truly dedicate their time to making their project, whether content creation, hosting events, or mentoring others, a success.

This also ensures that everyone involved is from the technical industry and heavily invested in the group’s success, and that we’re able to serve all our members. Our volunteers are 50% men and women, includes LGBT representation, and our volunteer team resides in over five different countries, across three continents.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Last fall, AWIP in partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched a Coursera professional specialization focused on product management titled, The Real-World Product Management Specialization. The course explored the knowledge and skills that top tech companies ask for during their interviews, the content of their product management playbooks, and more than 20 real-world product management deliverables. I teach it along with guest lecturers from Amazon, Google, Twitch, Nextdoor, and many other notable tech companies. Within the first week, we had more than 600 learners enroll and had earned a coveted 5-star rating on Coursera.

With the great success and impact of this educational series, we’re in the midst of launching a second professional specialization with our partners Coursera and AWS, this time focused on the many career opportunities in the AWS cloud. As COVID continues to disrupt traditional careers, one of the bright spots is cloud computing, and we want our members interested in those roles to be competitive for those roles.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

Short answer: no. During the COVID pandemic, women experienced the brunt of remote work and unemployment challenges.

In January 2021, we saw another 275,000 women leave the workforce, which accounted for 80% of the jobs lost that month. The month before, 156,000 women left the workforce. Women account for 55% for jobs lost. With women continuing to leave the workforce in large numbers like this, I think we are not doing all we can to support them during this time.

It’s not that women aren’t as dedicated to their jobs, but that the brunt of family responsibilities falls on their shoulders. This is where male allyship can help — not just at work or in the boardroom, but at home — where it could make the difference between another unemployment statistic or career progression. Also, management should consider resources women want such as flexible work hours, reduced schedules, and a culture change from face-time to results.

We’re making progress. Black Lives Matter pushed many tech companies to hire more women and people of color into high-level roles. But where these companies give these new hires the support and resources to succeed remains to be seen.

In general, when companies are in crisis, that’s when they’re most likely to nominate a woman or person of color for a visible seat at the table. If the crisis is brought on by structural decline, the woman leader doesn’t stand much a chance. This kind of tokenism is probably hurting women’s advancement in the workplace more than it helps. Due to this, I highly encourage tech companies to bring in women and minority professionals not just for optics but because they genuinely have the skills, grit, accountability, and integrity necessary for the job.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

As touched on in the previous question, women in tech (and women in the workforce in general) are pulling double-duty 24/7 with work and family responsibilities.

In addition to that, our 2020 Future of Women Report found that women are facing challenges when it comes to mentorships, promotions, and their salaries. The data revealed that our women respondents are twice as likely as males to find the hunt for internal guidance, and similarly as likely to say that finding a mentor is “hopeless.” This is a problem. Mentoring is a key driver of job satisfaction.

What’s more, 51% of women said opportunities for promotion have been affected by the pandemic, compared to 34% of men who shared the same sentiment. Also, 39% of women also said it will affect their ability to maintain a competitive salary.

These issues aren’t going to be solved overnight and it will take long-term efforts and commitments, yet tech companies can jumpstart the change and resolve these ongoing challenges with these initial steps:

  • Encourage Male Allyship — again this just shouldn’t take place at home but also in the workplace and boardroom
  • Provide Mentorship Opportunities — during a time where hallway conversations or meeting over a cup of coffee are longer viable, it’s more crucial than ever to ensure employees have at least one person they can turn to for advice and help them progress in their career
  • Adjust Employee Reviews — the work culture has changed dramatically within the last year. Companies should change employee reviews to index on criteria such as output, milestones to better match the current environment, rather than outdated criteria such as face time

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to inspire “return packets,” which are similar to “promotion packets”: documents that enable working mothers and any woman who needs to take time off of work to freeze their career at a point in time, with the ability to return to it when they’re ready. This could help so many women prevent career regression when important life events happen, and enable them to continue progressing and even accelerating their careers.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I’d love to have lunch with Condoleezza Rice. She’s one of my role models because she also grew up as a woman of color in a rural area. My father would tell me what her father would tell her, “If you’re twice as good as they are, they might not like you, but they have to respect you.”

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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